Cannabis, the a-motivational syndrome of the dutch legislator
by Mario Lap1
1. Recreational cannabis
Based on a report filed in 1972 by the Baan commission2 the Dutch Opiumact on illicit drugs of 1976 brought a clear-cut distinction between drug users and traffickers. At the same time a distinction was introduced between illegal drugs with so called unacceptable health risks (all other illicit drugs) and cannabisproducts by means of a depenalization of the latter. The main goal was to create a separation of markets preventing hard drug use and addiction.
A policy was developped permitting the retail-trade of cannabis-products in about 1500 so-called coffeeshops under specific conditions - through a system of prosecution guide lines called AHOJ-G
A = no advertisement, public display of products etc. .H = no hard drugs (meaning all illegal drugs but cannabis), O = no nuisance and/or disturbance of public order, J = no sale to minors (< 18 years of age), G = no whole sale (a maximum of 5 grams per transaction) and the involvement of the so called Triangle Committee - Mayor, Chief of Police and District Attorney.
And although now some 30 years later cannabis is by far the most commonly used illicit drug in the western world, still only in the Netherlands one can freely buy cannabis products in these cannabis retail facilities called coffeeshops.
The sale of cannabis products in these coffeeshops concerns hashish (cannabisproduct) and marijuana (dried parts of the cannabisplant). Most of the hashish sold is imported from Morocco but the vast majority of cannabis products sold in the coffeeshops consists of so-called Nederweed.
This Nederweed, marijuana grown in The Netherlands, is both produced on a small scale as on a larger scale in a semi-professional way. Although tolerating the retail-trade of hashish and marijuana in the coffeeshops, no similar systems are applied toward the wholesale-trade or production and growing of cannabis in The Netherlands.
In 1994 when Dutch marijuana started to become more and more dominant on the dutch market the Netherlands Institute for Alchol and Drugs, where I was employed at that time, was concerned that the production of this marijuana would fall in the hands of organized crime and hence has produced a law proposal regulating the dutch cannabis market3.
This law proposal did not pass parliament and the prosecution of dutch cannabis production has since become a hight priority for the dutch police with foreseeable results.
Today we may conclude that the intensified judicial attention for the supply of coffeeshops has pushed the coffeeshops toward more criminal circles. The judicial interventions disturb the normalized supply-patterns and recently even caused undesirable price augmentations4. A large number of coffeeshops offer resistance to this drift toward a more criminal existence and the proprietors of these coffeeshops prefer a normal legal status with corresponding taxation and contributions but the current legislation prevents this.
A solution for this dilemma would be to extend the guideline system to cannabis production but although the hypocrisy of the current situation is realized by many parties such as city mayors, judges and scientists, the legislator refuses to consider this option using international- treaties, pressure and politics as an excuse. (see note note 4) It almost seems like the Dutch legislator suffers from an a-motivational syndrome concerning cannabis.
Now to put my critical approach of Dutch cannabis policy in the right perspective I have to emphasize that its consequences, results and effects are in my view superior to cannabis policies carried out elsewhere both in Europe and especially the USA. Hence my criticism is to be regarded from a Dutch and constructive perspective. I will provide you with some data from CEDRO and the EMCDDA which will surely clarify my position on this.
From Cannabis, the changing picture of cannabis use in Europe, 2007 European monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/ publications/online/ar2007/en/cannabis
Before I move to medicinal cannabis let me finalize this paragraph on recreational cannabis briefly mentioning two recent issues in the Netherlands and the lack of new realistic prevention efforts.
The christian democrat mayor of the city Maatricht mr Leers has recently announced the move of a significant number of coffeeshops toward the border (Maastricht is a border town to both Belgium and Germany) in order to decrease the nuissance caused by large numbers of Belgian and French citizens visting these coffeeshops.5 he also called for the immediate regulation of production and delivery of cannabis to the Maastricht coffeeshops. Where he faced opposition for his relocation plans from Belgian politicians only (probably for electoral reasons) his regulatory plans were greeted positively by a majority in dutch parliament but swiftly denied by the minister of Justice from the same christian democrat party.
As almost everywhere else in the world drug policy in the Netherlands is rarely based on empirical studies or cost benefit analysis. Many decisions are based on political opportunism, innuendo and populism. Baring this in mind is the only way to understand the recent political decisions concerning coffeeshops in the near vicinity of schools.6 Not based on any scientific or other data and without even examining the possible consequences of such proposals for cannabis availability and consumption or the influence on the main goal of cannabis police, the separation of markets, a decision was made to set minimum distances between coffeeshops and schools.
This while no policy whatsover is in place for what is in my view the main public health problem with cannabis consumption in the Netherlands as well as the rest of Europe. Cannabis in Europe is mostly consumed in so called joints. These joints consist of 80 - 90% tobacco with some cannabis or hashish. In fact many youngsters' first tobacco consumption is by means of these joints. Now at the age of for example 30 most of these youngsters have stopped consuming cannabis but have ended up with a severe tobacco addiction.
Therefore for many years now I have suggested a prevention campaign informing young people of the hazards of the above form of cannabis use and of alternative ways of consumption (pure and/or with tobacco replacements). Recent Swiss scientific research has revealed further negative aspect of combined cannabis-tobacco use7 but realistic Dutch government prevention efforts concerning such use are non existent. 8
2. Medicinal cannabis
Thanks to the Health Minister at that time Dr Els Borst, patients in the Netherlands can obtain fully legal medicinal cannabis on prescription from pharmacies since the 1st of september 2003. This cannabis is produced under control of the Government Bureau Medicinal Cannabis (BMC) and consists of three varieties of cannabis. Medicinal cannabis is prescribed to a wide variety of patients such as people suffering from AIDS/ HIV, Multiple Sclerosis and other muscle related diseases, Gilles de la Tourette, rheumatism and cancer9
Recently Germany, Italy and Finland have also decided to enable the prescription of such medicinal cannabis and to facilitate such practice on the basis of cannabis imported from and produced by the BMC in the Netherlands.10 Further countries are expected to follow in the near future.
The main problem with medicinal cannabis in the first years was the availability of more varieties of cannabis at a much lower price in the coffeeshops but now more varieties are prescribed and significant price cuts have been realized more and more patients as well as doctors realize the advantages of cannabis produced for medicinal purposes and hence of consistent quality and constant strength 11
The current Dutch Minister has just decided that the production and hence prescription of medicinal cannabis will be extended for at least another seven years as well as facilitating further scientific studies.
1 Mario Lap is the director of Drugtext foundation, https://drugtext.org/ and consultant for policy and legal matters of the Dutch national drug helpline
2 Similar commissions were installed in various countries, like the Rolleston Comission in the U.K, the Le Dain Commission in Canada and the Shafer commission in the U.S.A. and their conclusions show remarkable similarities (for full text versions of these reports please visit the report section)
3 1994 NIAD, Law proposal regulating the production and sale of cannabis in the Netherlands, official law proposal to parliament by Green party https://drugtext.org/library/articles/ lexlap.html
4 September 24 Parliamentary questions MP B van der Ham (liberals) and answer by the Minister of Justice October 2, ANP, Trimbos institute, Marijuana less strong but more expensive October 3, ANP, stagnated supply to coffeeshops causes price rise September 4 Dutch marijuana now often produced in Germany due to intense prosecution in the Netherlands Polderwiet, Nicole Maalste and Michiel Panhuysen 2007 ISBN 978 90 261 0410 7 The Czar's reefer madness, New york Times august 26, 2006
5 Forget politics, let's rap, The guardian february 28 2006 ANP April 26 2006, Leers: For the regulation of cannabis ANP june 1 2006, Belgians afraid of Maastricht coffeeshop policy
6 TNI May 31 2007 Coffeeshops in the vicinity of schools, a real or a political problem
7 Some go without a cigarette, characteristics of cannabis users who have never smoked tobacco. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2007, 161(11): 1042-1047
8 Multilingual cannabis prevention effort started and paid for by the cannabis retailing coffeeshops Tips for cannabis consumers: https://drugtext.org/sub/tips.htm
9 December 2004 The future of legal medicinal cannabis, quickscan by the ministry of health
10 Augustus 22, ANP, Dutch medicinal marijuana imported by Germany, Italy and Finland
11 october 13 De Volkskrant, Cannabis as medicine